Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang: Backstage at The Lion King with Thom Sesma

Thom Sesma and Asia Flores backstage at The Lion King Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay. © Lia Chang

Thom Sesma and Asia Flores backstage at The Lion King Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay. © Lia Chang

In December, I caught up with my friend Thom Sesma in Las Vegas, where he is playing “Scar” in Disney’s THE LION KING at the Mandalay Bay Theatre.

Disney’s THE LION KING musical is based on the 1994 animated film of the same name which follows the adventures of the royal lion cub Simba on his quest to grow up and learn what it means to be a king.

The Lion King director Julie Taymor © Lia Chang

The Lion King director Julie Taymor © Lia Chang

Thom explained that director Julie Taymor’s vision for the show was influenced from her work in Indonesia with Asian theatrical forms. Taymor, along with Michael Curry, created hundreds of masks and puppets for THE LION KING. THe choreography is by Garth Fagan, scenic design is by Richard Hudson, costume design is by Julie Taymor and lighting design is by Donald Holder.

The book was adapted by Roger Allers, who co-directed the animated film, and Irene Mecchi, who co-wrote the screenplay for THE LION KING. The Las Vegas score features Elton John and Tim Rice’s music from the animated film along with two new songs by John and Rice, and additional musical material by South African Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer. The resulting sound of THE LION KING score is a fusion of Western popular music and the distinctive sounds and rhythms of Africa.

Marija Juliette Abney, Jeremiah Tatum, and Derrick Spear in the opening number The Circle of Life from THE LION KING Las Vegas. (c)2009, Disney. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.

Marija Juliette Abney, Jeremiah Tatum, and Derrick Spear in the opening number The Circle of Life from THE LION KING Las Vegas. (c)2009, Disney. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.

The international and multi-ethnic cast also features Alton F. White as the Lion King “Mufasa”, Clifton Oliver as “Simba”, Buyi Zama as the wise baboon “Rafiki”, Kissy Simmons as the lioness “Nala”, Joshua Landay as “Zazu”, Damian Baldet as “Timon” the meerkat, Adam Kozlowski as “Pumbaa” the warthog and Marvette Williams as Sarabi. D. Asante Ervin and Jade Nelson are charming and full of spunk as Young Simba and Young Nala. The motley crew of hyenas are portrayed by Matthew S. Morgan (Banzai), Jacquie Hodges (Shenzi) and Robbie Swift (Ed).

The opening number The Circle of Life from THE LION KING Las Vegas. (c)2009, Disney. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.

The opening number The Circle of Life from THE LION KING Las Vegas. (c)2009, Disney. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.

My niece Asia and I had great seats, in section B on the aisle for the opening number of the show, which features actors working seamlessly with the puppets to portray the stunning procession of animals that fill the aisles during ‘Circle of Life’. THE LION KING Las Vegas is a spectacular theatrical experience. There are 55 cast members in all, and they are superb. It’s a visual feast that is as timeless as when I first saw the original production in 1997, the year it opened at the New Amsterdam.

Perfectly suited to the villainous role of Scar, Thom’s costume consists of 45 pounds of leather and a mechanical lion-face headpiece that can be raised and lowered via a hidden remote control, creating the illusion of a cat “lunging” during his confrontations with his brother Mufasa and the Hyenas.

I last saw Thom on Broadway as the seductive powerhouse Captain Ahrab wielding a whip in The Times They are A-Changin’. Equally at home in the musical theater as well as on the legit stage, he has been on and off Broadway and on tour in Miss Saigon, Titanic, Search and Destroy, Man of La Mancha, Cymbeline, Rashomon, Baba Goya, In a Pig’s Valise, As Thousands Cheer, Othello, Ivanov, Howard Barker’s A Hard Heart, playing opposite Kathleen Chalfant and starring opposite Charles Busch in Shanghai Moon. Last year, he received The Enquirer Acclaim Award, which celebrates the best of Cincinnati theatre, for his turn as a frustrated Korean immigrant widower in the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s production of Julia Cho’s Durango which opened the 2008 fall season.

After the show, Thom treated us to a backstage tour, much to my niece Asia’s delight. He showed her the puppets in the rafters, encouraged her to touch the masks and the costumes, and explained how the different actors work with and navigate in their intricate costumes onstage.

As we said goodbye, Thom shared, “I’ll be here until 2011. Although I miss my home in New York, I have the best job in the world.”

THE LION KING is playing at Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South. Tickets for Disney’s THE LION KING at Mandalay Bay are available for $64, $86 and $113.50. VIP packages, which include premium seating, a complimentary souvenir program and a complimentary VIP show merchandise item, are available for $168.50. The show is performed Monday through Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m. with Saturday and Sunday shows at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at all Las Vegas Ticketmaster locations; through the box office at (702) 632-7580 or Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000; and online via or The closest entrance to the theater is through the garage of THE Hotel. Arrive at least one half hour prior to the show to pick up your tickets.

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All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2011 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at

Lia Chang Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography

Lia Chang Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography

Lia Chang is an actor, performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multimedia journalist.

As a photographer and videographer, Lia collaborates with artists, organizations and companies in establishing their documentary photo archive and social media presence. She has been documenting her colleagues and contemporaries in the arts, fashion and journalism since making her stage debut as Liat in the National Tour of South Pacific, with Robert Goulet and Barbara Eden.

Selections of Lia’s archive of Asian Pacific Americans in the arts, fashion, journalism, politics and space are in the newly created LIA CHANG THEATER PORTFOLIO in the ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN PERFORMING ARTS COLLECTION housed in the Library of Congress Asian Division’s Asian American Pacific Islander Collection.

Lia’s portraits and performance photos have appeared in Vanity Fair, Gourmet, German Elle, Women’s Wear Daily, The Paris Review, VIBE, TV Guide, Daily Variety, Interior Design, American Theatre,, Life & Style, OUT, New York Magazine, InStyle,,,,,, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, USA Today, The Boston Globe, New York Times and Washington Post. A former syndicated arts and entertainment columnist for KYODO News, Lia is the New York Bureau Chief for She writes about culture, style and Asian American issues for a variety of publications and this Backstage Pass with Lia Chang blog.

Other Articles by Lia Chang:
Crafting a Career
My Empire State Building at Dusk on view in HHC’s “Art and Healing-Healthy for the Holidays” Art Exhibit
Andy Warhol, Romare Bearden, Alexander Calder, Lia Chang in Art & Healing Exhibit at Snug Harbor on SI
Restaurants Respond for Relief, Chef Arnold Wong Hosts Benefit for Japan Night at E&O Trading Co. in SF on 4/10
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Peter Jay Fernandez in Theatre for a New Audience’s Macbeth at The Duke through April 22
Up Close and Personal with Darren Pettie, Star of The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore
A night out with Gordana Rashovich, Flora Goforth in The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore
André De Shields Set for World Premiere of Charles Smith’s The Gospel According to James at Indiana Rep, 3/22-4/10
Photos: David Duchovny, John Earl Jelks, Amanda Peet,Tracee Chimo opening night of Neil LaBute’s The Break of Noon
Multimedia: Exclusive photos and video of Disney’s The Lion King Las Vegas -In the Makeup Chair with Thom Sesma
Photo Call: BD Wong and the Cast of Heading East at the Asia Society
Lia Chang’s Botanical Beauties Portrait Commission at School of Nursing at Kings County Hospital Center
Thom Sesma, Peter Kim and Andrew Cristi star in Durango
Spotlight on Shanghai Moon’s Thom Sesma
Thom Sesma Stars in Jeanne Sakata’s Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi
Thom Sesma in The Epic Theatre Ensemble’s A HARD HEART
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive.

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